. 30 Ways to Disrupt Your Next Meeting | Successful Meetings

30 Ways to Disrupt Your Next Meeting

From having participants drive content to placing "plants" in your audience, disruptions make meetings memorable

30 Ways Disrupt Meeting opener

Not all disruptions are destructive. As a matter of fact, some may help you break out of your meetings rut. A disruption is a surprise element that triggers and sustains interest and attention, often leading to transformative experiences.

"Disruptions are really ways to make traditional education more 21st century -- meaning it is more hands-on, exploratory, peer-oriented, integrated, and memorable," explains Sharon Fisher, CEO of Play With a Purpose, an interactive learning company. With that in mind, here are 30 ways you can disrupt your meeting using methods attendees will never forget.
 

Lighten Up
1. MAKE IT INTERACTIVE.
 Fun is an effective way to disrupt meetings. "Who says general sessions have to be all about sitting and watching either endless speakers, or some kind of entertainment?" asks Fisher. "Why can't they be interactive, participatory, and high energy?"

2. LET MUSIC STIR EMOTIONS. For a recent insurance client, Fisher arranged for 350 of its attendees to bang their way into a musical frenzy. "Everyone in the audience was given a musical tube that played a specific note, then in a Guitar Hero--like game, thumped their tube to create beautiful music together," she recalls.

3. ENCOURAGE GRAFFITI. For another meeting, Dale Hudson, knowledge and events director, IMEX Group, collaborated with Fisher to create an exploratory learning center during IMEX America, and the PlayRoom was born. "It was an instant success. An entire day of hands-on learning was created where the attendees experienced interactive education, including walk-the-walls learning, which is a way to stir up conversations about a specific topic with things like stick-ons and graffiti, experiential learning games, and corporate social responsibility and networking activities," says Fisher.

4. GET CREATIVE JUICES FLOWING. Meetings that are infused with creativity will be more productive. "Anything that breaks up the boring meeting mentality and gets people smiling and laughing helps break down any walls employees may have, and it also helps relax employees and get their creative juices flowing," explains Claire Pearson, president, CP Inc. & Creatives, who after 15 years left her position as chief operating officer of a national retail company to start the organization.

5. INCLUDE ACTIVITY.
 Belly dancing, yoga, Hula-Hooping, anything that gets smiles on faces and energy levels up should be included in the meeting, says Alecia May, CEO of Eventistry by Alecia.

6. GET NOSTALGIC.
 Some corporations have had success with a whatever's-old-is-new-again approach. "Go back through time and find games from the '50s, '60s, '70s, and '80s. Twister, Toss Across, and Trouble are attention-getting and will draw attendees over to watch the fun and join in," notes Julie Austin, CEO of the consulting firm Creative Innovation Group.

7. BRING ON THE PACHYDERMS. At the association meetings he has planned, Dr. Elliott B. Jaffa, a marketing and behavioral psychologist, has arranged disruptors that have included bringing in a baby elephant for attendees to pet and hiring a juggler who juggles screeching chainsaws.

8. SHAKE THEM UP.
 Surprises, good and bad, are disruptors. Jaffa got the attention of a group he was addressing when he arranged for a hotel employee dressed in uniform to rush onstage and hand him a note. He pretended to read it and exclaimed, "Did anyone use valet parking this morning?" Lots of hands went up and he said, "Management apologizes but they have no idea who those guys who claimed to be valets are." As Jaffa recalls, "I not only got a laugh, but I scared the hell out of those who used the valet."


Participants Drive Content
9. LET ATTENDEES IMPACT THE MEETING.
 At a recent conference at the 237 Park Avenue, New York City, office of Convene, an operator of a network of full-service meeting and event venues, a software company, asked the attendees for help with the content. A loose agenda based on overarching themes was refined with the input attendees had scribbled on a large wall regarding topics they wanted addressed and questions they wanted answered. "By using this event format, the content of the conference was impacted by the attendees," says e-book author Julie Starr, regional production manager at Convene.

10. CLOSE WITH QUESTIONS. At another gathering, the ACCED-I annual conference in Orlando last March, Diana Hackenholz, director of meetings and education, held a closing session attended by all the presenters and challenged participants to ask questions to get any additional information or elaboration that was not covered in the session. By doing this, she made sure the attendees left without any lingering questions.


Break Into Groups
20. MIX IT UP.
 For larger meetings, break into small groups, mixing up participants who don't normally collaborate. Assign roles to participants, such as the Devil's Advocate -- the individual who ensures diverse ideas are presented, or the Idea Builder -- an individual who is responsible for taking every idea presented and building on it, says Gina Abudi, president of Abudi Consulting Group and author of Implementing Positive Organizational Change: A Strategic Project Management Approach.

21. CONSIDER A SIDEBAR. Networking is one of the most important objectives of most meetings. David Blackmer, director of member experience for AAPC, a medical coding, training, and certification association, is always trying new things to get attendees to interact. Side meetings are effective, says Blackmer. The organization hosts focus groups during its conference with attendees that represent a broad spectrum of the entire event's attendee demographic. "Those who attend the focus group have one shared interest, offering their opinion," says Blackmer. "Throughout the discussion, attendees will form a bond with each other and be more enticed to openly interact with each other after the focus group."

22. TAKE IT OUTSIDE THE MEETING. AAPC primarily serves those who are involved in healthcare reimbursement. It creates a separate event, connected to its main annual conference, for presidents, CEOs, and the higher tier of healthcare management. "They attended different educational sessions, but most of the meals, exhibit hall time, and general sessions were shared," notes Blackmer.

23. LEVERAGE MOBILE APPS FOR DISRUPTION. Mobile apps can be used to disrupt your meeting, as well. "It's fantastic to send a message out into the ether that you're going to check out X or Y tourist attraction nearby, and if anybody wants to join you, to meet at a certain place and time," says Blackmer. "I've had great interactions with a lot of random attendees at various events this way, and it definitely helps bolster the networking and attendee intercommunication."


Seating Matters
24. SIT ON IT.
 Where and how people sit impacts a meeting. Long, horizontal rows of chairs facing a stage where a talking head goes on and on will not spur creativity or excitement. According to Convene, rectangular pods are now considered the best seating style for promoting collaboration and comfort.

25. TAKE CENTER STAGE. Other ways to disrupt your meeting include putting the stage in the middle of the room, changing the setup throughout the day, mixing hard chairs with soft chairs and even beanbags and large pillows. "No matter what set you use, make sure that your presentation can be both seen and heard by all participants," says Dr. Paul Radde, organizational development consultant of over 40 years and author of Seating Matters.

26. INCORPORATE THE UNUSUAL.  Have participants change the seating setup, from straight row theater style to a rounded style in which every chair is facing the presentation, offers Radde. He also recommends challenging participants to sit in different seats after breaks instead of returning to their "home" chair.


Plant Disruptors
27.
 PUT PLANTS IN THE AUDIENCE. And not the green kind. Think of Saturday Night Live, which uses cast members planted in the audience to take part in exchanges with the host that add an element of fun, confrontation, and entertainment to the monologue. Such a scenario easily translates to meetings and conferences. "An in-house event planner knows the personalities in the audience and who would be a good participant in a role play, responsive to a question, representative of a position, provider of archival history," says Radde. Presenters interacting with people well known to the group will add another element to the experience.

28. GREET FROM THE TOP. Dick and Emily Axelrod are co-founders of the Axelrod Group and co-authors of Let's Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done. Instead of just welcoming attendees to your conference, they suggest asking how this can be done thoughtfully. One company arranged for its senior leaders to greet participants at the door and to staff the registration table.

29. SPUR DISCUSSION.
 Instead of icebreakers, the Axelrods suggest asking, "How can we connect people to each other and the task?" Engage participants in discussions such as: What brought you to this meeting? Why is the subject of this conference important to you?  

30. SPUR SELF-DISCOVERY. Instead of speaker after speaker, the two suggest asking, "How can participants discover the current state?" At an education conference, participants chatted about the most effective teacher they know and what made him or her effective. "Instead of listening to one speaker's answer, they discovered their own answers," say the Axelrods.



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the February 2018 issue of Successful Meetings


Interaction Is Key
11. ELIMINATE THE TALKING HEADS.
 Every January, an eyeglass company kicks off the year by bringing all its retailers together to launch new products, provide scientific research and education, and to discuss selling strategies for the year. "Typically a talking-head-from-the-stage kind of meeting, they approached us to disrupt the meeting by making it more interactive," says Fisher. A "Runway to Success" event was designed where teams created different personas to coincide with eyeglass types, complete with a script and clothes.  

"The in-depth discussions about who would wear each lens type and the creating of the personas led to deep understanding about each of the products and the ideal target audience," says Fisher.  
 
12. JAZZ UP COFFEE BREAKS. One area of a meeting that desperately needs disruption is the coffee break, says Fisher. "Studies show that 40 to 50 percent of meeting attendees are introverts, yet the majority of meetings are designed for extroverts. One thing you will never hear introverts say is, 'Coffee breaks are my favorite part of the meeting.' One of the first things introverts or shy attendees will do is pull out their smartphone during a break," adds Fisher. She recommends disrupting traditional coffee breaks with those that encourage interaction. They include:

 "Walk-the-Wall" activities like an "I'm Daydreaming of…" room. Here, attendees can doodle on a wall about their dreams and aspirations.

 Creating a "flash learning mob" where passionate conversations about your sessions and content can take place.

13. ADD FUN AND GAMES. Gamify your coffee break, as well as your entire meeting, in a way that encourages people to network to earn points.

14. GIVE THE INTROVERTS MORE TIME TO BRAINSTORM. It is important to consider the needs of introverts during not just coffee breaks but throughout the meeting. They may need to sleep on questions posed rather than compete with extroverts for quick idea production. It may help if you provide a space for them to post follow-up comments such as in a kiosk or on a whiteboard for all to see.


Consider an Out-of-the-Ordinary Venue for Your Gathering
15. HAVE AN UNCONVENTION.
 Meetingmax, a Canadian event housing-technology company, has refined the concept of disruption at its annual user conference, the "Unconvention." It selects a conference concept and then chooses venues that reinforce it. In recent years, Unconvention has explored a number of unique themes and locations. They have included "Diving Deeper," which included a gathering in an aquarium, taking a local ferry, and eating at a dockside restaurant; and "Raise the Bar," which took attendees to a barre fitness class and a revolving restaurant. "We believe in getting creative by using venues that don't traditionally cater to meeting professionals," says Jeff Duncan, president and chief executive officer of Meetingmax.
 
16. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. That awesome new cocktail lounge that recently opened can be a great venue for your meeting, as it is probably closed during the day, Duncan adds. Universities and colleges are ideal venues, as well. Many of them have downtown campuses that can be used for breakout sessions.

17. BRING IT WITHIN. Last year, the theme of the Unconvention was "Breathe Easy." In the middle of the keynote address, the speaker led a five-minute group meditation session. "In looking around the room, I was impressed that all our attendees took part. People commented that they didn't experience the usual after-lunch energy slump that afternoon," Duncan says.

18. DISRUPT THE FLOW. A chair yoga session kicked off the next day, Duncan recalls. "Participants used their chairs as props to do different poses and stretch. The feedback that I received afterward was overwhelmingly positive. People felt really alert and engaged," he says. "While both elements tied in with our theme, they could easily be incorporated into any conference and could be used to disrupt the flow of information, and allow people to reset and re-engage."

19. MAKE CHANGE A CONSTANT. Another way Meetingmax disrupts its convention is by using different venues for morning and afternoon sessions. "Splitting up the day helps keep guests alert and to remember the content that was delivered," says Duncan.


Interaction Is Key
11. ELIMINATE THE TALKING HEADS.
 Every January, an eyeglass company kicks off the year by bringing all its retailers together to launch new products, provide scientific research and education, and to discuss selling strategies for the year. "Typically a talking-head-from-the-stage kind of meeting, they approached us to disrupt the meeting by making it more interactive," says Fisher. A "Runway to Success" event was designed where teams created different personas to coincide with eyeglass types, complete with a script and clothes.  

"The in-depth discussions about who would wear each lens type and the creating of the personas led to deep understanding about each of the products and the ideal target audience," says Fisher.  
 
12. JAZZ UP COFFEE BREAKS. One area of a meeting that desperately needs disruption is the coffee break, says Fisher. "Studies show that 40 to 50 percent of meeting attendees are introverts, yet the majority of meetings are designed for extroverts. One thing you will never hear introverts say is, 'Coffee breaks are my favorite part of the meeting.' One of the first things introverts or shy attendees will do is pull out their smartphone during a break," adds Fisher. She recommends disrupting traditional coffee breaks with those that encourage interaction. They include:

 "Walk-the-Wall" activities like an "I'm Daydreaming of…" room. Here, attendees can doodle on a wall about their dreams and aspirations.

 Creating a "flash learning mob" where passionate conversations about your sessions and content can take place.

Play With a Purpose
training game
Play With a Purpose training game

13. ADD FUN AND GAMES. Gamify your coffee break, as well as your entire meeting, in a way that encourages people to network to earn points.

14. GIVE THE INTROVERTS MORE TIME TO BRAINSTORM. It is important to consider the needs of introverts during not just coffee breaks but throughout the meeting. They may need to sleep on questions posed rather than compete with extroverts for quick idea production. It may help if you provide a space for them to post follow-up comments such as in a kiosk or on a whiteboard for all to see.


Meetingmax session at
interactive venue The Home
Meetingmax session at interactive venue The Home

Consider an Out-of-the-Ordinary Venue for Your Gathering
15. HAVE AN UNCONVENTION.
 Meetingmax, a Canadian event housing-technology company, has refined the concept of disruption at its annual user conference, the "Unconvention." It selects a conference concept and then chooses venues that reinforce it. In recent years, Unconvention has explored a number of unique themes and locations. They have included "Diving Deeper," which included a gathering in an aquarium, taking a local ferry, and eating at a dockside restaurant; and "Raise the Bar," which took attendees to a barre fitness class and a revolving restaurant. "We believe in getting creative by using venues that don't traditionally cater to meeting professionals," says Jeff Duncan, president and chief executive officer of Meetingmax.
 
16. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. That awesome new cocktail lounge that recently opened can be a great venue for your meeting, as it is probably closed during the day, Duncan adds. Universities and colleges are ideal venues, as well. Many of them have downtown campuses that can be used for breakout sessions.

17. BRING IT WITHIN. Last year, the theme of the Unconvention was "Breathe Easy." In the middle of the keynote address, the speaker led a five-minute group meditation session. "In looking around the room, I was impressed that all our attendees took part. People commented that they didn't experience the usual after-lunch energy slump that afternoon," Duncan says.

18. DISRUPT THE FLOW. A chair yoga session kicked off the next day, Duncan recalls. "Participants used their chairs as props to do different poses and stretch. The feedback that I received afterward was overwhelmingly positive. People felt really alert and engaged," he says. "While both elements tied in with our theme, they could easily be incorporated into any conference and could be used to disrupt the flow of information, and allow people to reset and re-engage."

19. MAKE CHANGE A CONSTANT. Another way Meetingmax disrupts its convention is by using different venues for morning and afternoon sessions. "Splitting up the day helps keep guests alert and to remember the content that was delivered," says Duncan.


Break Into Groups
20. MIX IT UP.
 For larger meetings, break into small groups, mixing up participants who don't normally collaborate. Assign roles to participants, such as the Devil's Advocate -- the individual who ensures diverse ideas are presented, or the Idea Builder -- an individual who is responsible for taking every idea presented and building on it, says Gina Abudi, president of Abudi Consulting Group and author of Implementing Positive Organizational Change: A Strategic Project Management Approach.

Play With a Purpose
idea-sparking workshop
Play With a Purpose idea-sparking workshop

21. CONSIDER A SIDEBAR. Networking is one of the most important objectives of most meetings. David Blackmer, director of member experience for AAPC, a medical coding, training, and certification association, is always trying new things to get attendees to interact. Side meetings are effective, says Blackmer. The organization hosts focus groups during its conference with attendees that represent a broad spectrum of the entire event's attendee demographic. "Those who attend the focus group have one shared interest, offering their opinion," says Blackmer. "Throughout the discussion, attendees will form a bond with each other and be more enticed to openly interact with each other after the focus group."

22. TAKE IT OUTSIDE THE MEETING. AAPC primarily serves those who are involved in healthcare reimbursement. It creates a separate event, connected to its main annual conference, for presidents, CEOs, and the higher tier of healthcare management. "They attended different educational sessions, but most of the meals, exhibit hall time, and general sessions were shared," notes Blackmer.

23. LEVERAGE MOBILE APPS FOR DISRUPTION. Mobile apps can be used to disrupt your meeting, as well. "It's fantastic to send a message out into the ether that you're going to check out X or Y tourist attraction nearby, and if anybody wants to join you, to meet at a certain place and time," says Blackmer. "I've had great interactions with a lot of random attendees at various events this way, and it definitely helps bolster the networking and attendee intercommunication."


Seating Matters
24. SIT ON IT.
 Where and how people sit impacts a meeting. Long, horizontal rows of chairs facing a stage where a talking head goes on and on will not spur creativity or excitement. According to Convene, rectangular pods are now considered the best seating style for promoting collaboration and comfort.

25. TAKE CENTER STAGE. Other ways to disrupt your meeting include putting the stage in the middle of the room, changing the setup throughout the day, mixing hard chairs with soft chairs and even beanbags and large pillows. "No matter what set you use, make sure that your presentation can be both seen and heard by all participants," says Dr. Paul Radde, organizational development consultant of over 40 years and author of Seating Matters.

26. INCORPORATE THE UNUSUAL.  Have participants change the seating setup, from straight row theater style to a rounded style in which every chair is facing the presentation, offers Radde. He also recommends challenging participants to sit in different seats after breaks instead of returning to their "home" chair.


Plant Disruptors
27.
 PUT PLANTS IN THE AUDIENCE. And not the green kind. Think of Saturday Night Live, which uses cast members planted in the audience to take part in exchanges with the host that add an element of fun, confrontation, and entertainment to the monologue. Such a scenario easily translates to meetings and conferences. "An in-house event planner knows the personalities in the audience and who would be a good participant in a role play, responsive to a question, representative of a position, provider of archival history," says Radde. Presenters interacting with people well known to the group will add another element to the experience.

28. GREET FROM THE TOP. Dick and Emily Axelrod are co-founders of the Axelrod Group and co-authors of Let's Stop Meeting Like This: Tools to Save Time and Get More Done. Instead of just welcoming attendees to your conference, they suggest asking how this can be done thoughtfully. One company arranged for its senior leaders to greet participants at the door and to staff the registration table.

29. SPUR DISCUSSION.
 Instead of icebreakers, the Axelrods suggest asking, "How can we connect people to each other and the task?" Engage participants in discussions such as: What brought you to this meeting? Why is the subject of this conference important to you?  

30. SPUR SELF-DISCOVERY. Instead of speaker after speaker, the two suggest asking, "How can participants discover the current state?" At an education conference, participants chatted about the most effective teacher they know and what made him or her effective. "Instead of listening to one speaker's answer, they discovered their own answers," say the Axelrods.



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the February 2018 issue of Successful Meetings